HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – Airmen from the Digital and the Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks Directorates here are part of a new acquisition innovation pilot program, which kicked off in Boston Sept. 7.
The seven-month Base Camp program, a partnership between MITRE, the National Security Innovation Network and ATX Defense, offers acquisition teams from Hanscom, the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, and other Department of Defense organizations collaborative training tailored to their specific acquisition challenges. Using a hybrid training model, DOD teams explore potential approaches for existing problems and capture best practices to help identify strategies for others to follow.
Marissa McCoy, Base Camp MITRE lead, said hearing Airmen express a desire to work with innovative capabilities and acquisition strategies, but being hindered by a lack of knowledge, sparked the idea for the initiative.
“With support from NSIN and ATX Defense, we built this interactive program that provides ‘learn by doing’ innovation acquisition instruction,” she said.
DOD teams, or ’trekkers,’ partner with acquisition and contracting subject matter experts or ’trail guides’ for one-on-one innovation education and training. Twenty Digital and C3I&N personnel started their innovation ’journey’ with a two-day, in-person session at the MassChallenge Boston office.
Sandra Frey, the Aerospace Management Systems Division’s chief Developmental Test manager and Innovation lead, said Base Camp offers acquisition personnel valuable insight.
“There are a number of early life cycle programs in our division that need to develop acquisition strategies, within cost constraints, to rapidly meet user needs,” she said. “We can leverage the expertise that the Base Camp folks provide to create innovative and speedy alternatives for review and action.”
Acquisition professionals from the Cryptologic and Cyber Systems Division said they hope this program will help them lay a solid foundation to meet Secretary of the Air Force imperatives.
“Our division looks forward to the collaborative nature of this initiative and its potential to accelerate the adoption of agile acquisition practices relevant to defensive cyber activities,” said Teri Rodriquez, an Acquisition chief in the Cryptologic and Cyber Systems Division.
The 60-hour training program is designed to integrate into participants’ daily work and to help build a DOD-wide network of innovators.
Capt. Craig Miles, a trekker from the Aerospace Management Systems Division, said he’s excited for the opportunity to learn from experts.
“Having access to these subject matter experts, I’m hoping to learn ways around speed bumps and challenges,” he said. “I want to take lessons learned and partnerships gained back to my division and utilize them to enable more agile, innovative acquisition moving forward.”
Organizers said the program will also immerse participants into “thriving innovation hubs in Boston and Austin” for broader context of the innovation community and how to tap into its resources.
“Both regions have the five critical stakeholders that are key to any innovation ecosystem – government, universities, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and corporations—and program organizers wanted to expose participants to these opportunities and networks to ensure that folks are taking advantage of these resources,” McCoy said.
Jim Rabuck, NSIN’s Southwest Region director, said the program is a catalyst for developing problem- solving leaders at the tactical and strategic levels to address critical national security needs.
“This will be the cohort of individuals who take on the ‘valley of death’ by removing bureaucratic silos that hinder the speed of innovation,” he said.
Over the next six months, Base Camp participants will take part in virtual monthly workshops led by MITRE’s Acquisition in the Digital Age team and meet individually with their trail guides.
“While the general education is important to provide a foundation, the one-on-ones are critical for tailoring those tools and tips into an executable plan,” said Matt MacGregor, a MITRE defense acquisition subject matter expert.
The program is scheduled to culminate in a two-day, in-person summit in Austin.
"We're wrapping up the Base Camp experience in Austin to coincide with the start of the SXSW 2023 Conference,” said Zach Walker, a managing partner at ATX Defense. “Participants will be able to see innovation in action as tens of thousands of people from across the world, including many DOD leaders, come to see what's next in technology and culture.”
Colleen Murphy, a MITRE acquisition and contracting subject matter expert, said ultimately organizers want participants to understand how to shape and implement innovation solutions.
“We hope that combining focused discussions on relevant topics with immediate application to real challenges, supported by subject matter experts, will demonstrate how innovation can be part of DOD acquisition processes,” she said.